Valentina’s Garden

My friend Annie, known locally as Ana del Campo, lives on the hillside on the other side of the river Rio Grande that runs through town from the presa (dam) throuh the cleavage between two mountains.  We came to visit her some years ago and that is how we got to Teotitlan del Valle.  Annie was the second gringa to connect with a local Zapotec family and be invited to build a home on their land.  A former psychologist, she is an expert Shiatsu massage therapist and has a loyal clientele in the village and in Oaxaca.  One of the treasures and pleasures of coming back to Teotitlan is to enjoy time with Annie, sipping tea, catching up, looking out over the village below from her hillside perch, and then laying down on her mat to give myself and my body over to the expert pressure touch of her hands and fingers in her sublimely tranquil space.  This evening was my third massage of the week — a totally relaxing experience, and I feel I can splurge with this expense because the cost is 200 pesos (about $18 USD) per hour.  As I walked up the winding rocky drive to her brick and stucco casita, the stars sparkled in the sky and were mirrored by village lights below creating a seamless vision of dancing stars with no horizon.   Annie has asked me to visualize who I am in the form of an animal to take as my talisman as a form of meditative relaxation.  I am a gazelle, sleek, agile and grazing.  Annie tells me that my body will respond and become the form that I visualize.

After the massage and to honor my gazelle,  Annie makes me a plate full of salad containing at least four different lettuces, fresh grated beets, cherry tomatoes and bright red nasturtiums from Valentina’s garden.  This is for grazing, she says.  Valentina, who was once Valerie, moved to Oaxaca some years ago from somewhere in el norte and started an organic garden.  She sells her bounty every Friday and Saturday at the Pochote Market in the Arcos, just beyond Santo Domingo Church on Macedonio Alcala.  Annie sprinkled goat cheese and pecans on the salad and topped it with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.  I followed her lead.  This is the ONLY way I will eat lettuce in Mexico — organically grown and washed in purified water by someone you know and trust.  To top it off, Annie brings to the table a red tortilla, handmade by Esther (Ess-tare) her neighbor, who ground the village grown red maize herself.  Below us, the band is playing its posada repertoire, drum beats, tubas, and saxaphones call out to the night sky.  A firecracker rocket is a shooting star.  I imagine the tables full of revelers eating fiesta tamales with amarillo mole, downing shots of mezcal followed by beer chasers, sucking limes and salt, dancing the slow Zapotec two-step far into the night, men in one line facing the women opposite them, never touching.  The firecrackers pop and the dogs bark in response.  The bray of a donkey punctuates it all.  Tomorrow, Mary and Joseph will move to another home where the cycle repeats the harmony.

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